When it comes to countries with the healthiest diets, France doesn't usually spring to mind. Croissants, fresh bread, wine and Champagne – all delicious, but far from the most nutritious options! However, obesity rates in France are quite a bit lower than in the UK, at 24% compared to 28%.
A few years back a diet book came out called ‘Why French Women Don't Get Fat'. It's one of the few diet books I haven't read, but I have worked closely with two French women and lived with one. Observing their behaviour around food, there were some noticeable differences between these women and us Brits. So what habits can we learn from these French ladies? Here are three things I have found French women do differently…
French women take time out to eat
When I lived with my French flatmate, she would sit down at our dining table for every meal. While I would walk around guzzling smoothies, or eat salads out of a bowl on the sofa in front of my laptop, she would sit down with a knife and fork at breakfast, lunch and dinner. A French colleague who I worked with while studying would always get up from her desk during lunch to go to the canteen and eat, while I often stayed at my desk browsing social media. Without knowing it, French women usually practice mindful eating. They focus on their food, eating slowly and enjoying each mouthful.
The lesson: Creating a practice of eating means you're less likely to break this habit and supplement your three square meals with on-the-go bites or grab extra, unnecessary food. Eating slowly and mindfully helps you to know when you're full and prevents overeating.
French women rarely snack
When my French flatmate moved to London and started work at her office, she came home one day and said to me about her colleagues “They constantly eat. All day long. There is always food on their desk. There is food everywhere!” She was totally bemused by this idea of grazing and snacking.
I've rarely seen any of the French ladies I've known snack. They eat substantial, balanced meals at meal times and that sees them through until their next meal.
The lesson: If you're eating properly balanced, healthy meals three times a day, the likelihood is you shouldn't need to supplement your diet with snacks. Us Brits are obsessed with snacking but I always try and encourage people to get all the nutrients they need from their meals through careful planning.
When French women notice the weight starting to creep on, they deal with it!
None of my French friends were pleasure deprivers. They all loved their food - all drank wine and all enjoyed life. And they were not immune to weight gain! But that they did do was keep a close eye on their weight. If they went on holiday and their weight crept up – they dealt with it right away. Nine years ago when I worked at Ysonut, the company who make the Proteifine Diet, I worked with a French lady. I remember her announcing that she was going to do Proteifine - the diet we worked with - for a couple of weeks. My first thought was “Really?! Why?!” Although I saw no changes in her, she knew she had gained a couple of kilos after her recent holiday and she wanted to address it before anyone did start to notice!
The lesson: Know your body and be aware of weight changes. If you have a tendency to gain weight, weighing yourself regularly is a good idea. A couple of extra pounds will be a lot easier to shift than a couple of extra stone!